Monday, June 27, 2011

Prepare: Shelf Life

Scenario: A global pandemic has finally ended but not before taking 99.9% of the world's population. For some reason, you were immune and with preparations in place, were able to avoid the fate of most of the human race. Now, you have the entire world as your personal grocery store and supply depot what with all the abandoned goods waiting for your to come get them.

Scenario: A nuclear war started and quickly ended. You and your family had a stocked shelter and emerge a few weeks later to learn that most of the people around you succumbed to fallout sickness and perished soon afterward. Now you must get busy preparing for a world without other people, however, you have all of the food and other supplies left in stores and in homes for your use.

While neither of these events (fortunately) have taken place, we run across these scenarios in survival fiction all the time. In Stephen King's book, "The Stand", one of the central characters remarks that with the reduced population, there is enough food in the grocery stores for 200 or more years. Another character suggests that there is plenty of gasoline in the ground to run cars for decades.

The truth of the matter is everything has a shelf life. That is, how long it is useful, edible, in working condition, safe to use or run before it is no longer viable.

Take food. Canned food, in ideal conditions (cool, dark, non-damp storage), can remain edible for two to five years. While some foods may last longer, after that time the vitamin content drops to nothing, the contents are nothing more than inert material, the taste might be negligible and the danger of food poisoning is higher.

What about dried foods? Same thing and some foods, like packaged dry cereal, may actually become inedible after less than a year. Sugar and salt, properly stored can last decades. But the key is proper storage.

Most grocery stores have all of the food out on the shelves. Bags containing flour, sugar and salt will quickly be compromised by insects or vermin. As the temperatures fluctuate in a grocery store with non-functioning climate controls, canned and glass bottled goods may actually crack or explode on the shelves.

In the end, after four or five years, only a few cans of spices in metal containers or coffee might still be usable. That is, if water does not get in through the roof and spoil even those things.

What about non food items? Batteries, depending upon the type, may only have a shelf life of 5-10 years with lithium batteries holding out the longest. Tires for the car and motorcycle, if kept wrapped and in a dry location, may only last five years at the longest. Many drugs, such as "cyllin" based antibiotics and tetracycline could kill you if used after their expiration date. Even aspirin after five years may lose its efficacy. Ammunition left in a cardboard box on the store shelf runs the risk of exposure to heat, air and moisture resulting in bulging, questionable cartridges.

The problem is the storage of a product, the weather conditions and if anything else, such as vermin, insects or animals have access to the product and may cause it harm. Most of the "stuff" in our world is either in a retail establishment, in a warehouse waiting for delivery or in the back of a truck somewhere. None of these conditions are ideal for storing anything for long term.

The solution?

First off, fiction aside, it is unlikely any of us will be in a situation where we are the "last man on earth" and have the world as our proverbial oyster. However, if you find yourself in a post-survival instance, here are some steps to take.

- Have climate controlled storage ready. That means a generator (more than one preferably) running on different fuel supplies, (gas, solar, wind) and lots of space (a big house or single story building) with plenty of insulation and several store rooms.

- Start collecting stuff. That means a big truck or trailer and access to grocery stores, drug stores, warehouse clubs, hardware and auto parts stores. Have a plan and a list and an amount needed to collect. There is no reason to collect and store five hundred sets of tires as you will never be able to use them all in a lifetime.

- Organize and start using the stuff. Digging around the warehouse looking for a bottle of aspirin means that something else has probably already gone bad.

- Start planning on doing without stuff. In the first month, fresh bananas, limes, pineapples and lemons will become a distant memory. Soon afterwards, chocolate and coffee will disappear forever. Best be able to getting used to a world without either.

- Start finding alternatives. Gasoline and diesel, even with preservatives, will go bad or be used up. Better find a good horse as even the bicycle will be worthless after the tires can no longer be replaced. Plant a huge garden and fields of wheat, corn and potatoes. That is where food is going to come from after the canned stuff goes rancid. Investigate and plant herbal alternatives to modern medicines. If it were me, I would be searching out and relocating chickens, goats and other small livestock before they die and before even setting foot in the local Walmart.

Eventually, you will have acquired everything locally available and will have run out of room. At that point, anyone would realize there is no way you can prepare and stockpile enough stuff to last a lifetime.

In the end, even people have a shelf life. With the world described above, our seventy five to eighty year lifespan will drop dramatically in the following generations. Enjoy the shopping while it lasts!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just for what it's worth: It is almost impossible for a Pandemic to kill most of the humans life on earth. The possibility of a pandemic is very real the odds that it would kill even 25% is very unlikely. That does not mean we should rejoice since obvioulsy the sudden death of 1/4 of the worlds population would be a catastrophe of biblical proportions. But it does mean you and I could well be alive after such a catastrophe and a lot of not so nice people would be alive as well. The risks are real!

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